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Spring surprises

There are two feel-good stories for which I’m rooting especially hard this spring:

  • Marc Kroon, the former Japanese star with a sweet fastball and record of overseas success
  • Ryan Vogelsong, who used to be one of the top pitching prospects in the early aughts for the Giants before he was traded to the Pirates. He became well-known for his pitching down the stretch and the postseason for the ‘Prisin’ Pirates of 2006, winning a World Series and becoming one of Pittsburgh’s most revered sports icons. At least, that’s what I tell myself to stop feeling guilty about the Jason Schmidt trade.

Kroon is still one of my darkhorse favorites to make the team. Guillermo Mota is fighting for his own spot from last year, but he could cede it to someone else if the Giants decide they need a spot-starter type (Jeff Suppan) or someone who doesn’t throw like Guillermo Mota (Not Guillermo Mota). Kroon is a long shot, but the Giants will find room for someone throwing in the upper-90s with a good breaking ball.

Vogelsong is a different story. He went to Japan and pitched like the Guillermo Mota of Japan – serviceable, of a certain value to a team, but mostly replaceable. Then he came back to the U.S. and pitched like the Guillermo Mota of AAA. Now, because he has a spring ERA of 1.04, some folks will likely start to wonder, "Hmm, maybe, just maybe, this Vogelsong fellow can stick with the big club." So consider this the yearly public service announcement to remind everyone not to get worked up about spring performances that are either surprisingly good or surprisingly bad.

Mark DeRosa has a bunch of hits so far, and his wrist looks totally healthy. Great. Still have no idea if he’s going to be a good hitter this year. Buster Posey is hitting .529. Great. But he’s not likely to hit over .520 or even .519 this season. Barry Zito has walked too many hitters this spring. Great. But he’s…wait, that one’s probably legit. But you can’t tell just by spring training.

And I know you know this. But it’s worth repeating because everyone forgets, even if only for a second. When Vogelsong got through two hitless innings today, I started to think, well, hey, just maybe…. Then I looked at his stats in Japan and AAA last year, and reminded myself that it is far, far, far, far, far more likely for Vogelsong to be the same pitcher that he was last year than it is for him to be a much improved pitcher. That’s not fun, but that’s how it works. There will never be a reason for a handful of spring innings to trump a player’s recent career.

For example, back in 2003, there was a former prospect lighting up the Cactus League. He had his share of control problems, and his recent AAA performances were awful. In 2001, he walked 6.4 hitters per nine innings in Fresno, and in 2002, he had a 5.60 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 117/74 in 146 innings. It should have made absolutely no difference that when he showed up to Scottsdale, he looked great. Sure, he was throwing hard and with much-improved command, but his recent performances were dreadful. The Giants put him in the major league bullpen anyways, and the results were predictable. As expected, the guy was only able to pitch 500 innings of relief after that with an ERA of 2.04 and 246 saves before breaking down.

Wait. My thesis was "don’t trust spring performances." Joe Nathan doesn’t help that. Okay, think quick, Grant. Save this post. C'mon…

So in conclusion, don’t trust spring performances, but keep a look out for feel-good stories that buck the odds and are totally awesome.

Good. Good. These saps will eat it up. Good work. This is why you are one of the top 15 or 16 Giants blogs on the internet, you handsome devil, you. As soon as I remove these thoughts from the final post, it will read like a seamless missive on the unreliability of spring stats. Also, I need to see a doctor about thinking in italics. It actually hurts quite a bit.

Maybe it's logical to be a curmudgeon about players like Vogelsong. But while I'm not expecting much, danged if I ain't rooting for him.